Lawmakers Seek to Limit Police Use of Force in California

June 24, 2019 Updated: June 24, 2019

A new bill designed to limit law enforcement’s ability to use deadly force is being reviewed in the state Senate after passing in the Assembly, with a vote of 68–0 and 12 abstaining.

AB 392 was introduced by Assembly members Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) in response to last year’s shooting of Stephon Clark by a member of the Sacramento Police Department. On June 18, the bill was approved by the state Senate’s Public Safety Committee in a 6–0 vote with one abstention.

Weber’s bill aims to address police brutality and the excessive use of force specifically toward people of color. It would set a strict use of force standard that would only allow police to use lethal force if “necessary” to defend human life. This would make California among the strictest in the nation in restraining police use of force.

The current standard, established by the Supreme Court, allows for law enforcement to use lethal force if the decision is “reasonable.”

“This is not an attack on police officers at all,” Weber was quoted as saying. “This is not designed to make all police officers go to jail or to hurt them. This is designed to change our culture. So that we look at policing differently and look at all the ways we can value life.”

Those on the civil rights side of the issue, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that current law allows police officers all but the most flagrant misconduct.

Those on these side of law enforcement say that the new bill would hinder law enforcement from enforcing the law and allow prosecutors the ability to second guess difficult decisions made by police in dangerous situations.

Initially, law enforcement advocates were vehemently opposed to the bill but have largely accepted an amendment that softened the original language. The original version of the bill defined “necessary” use of force as lacking any “reasonable” alternative. Police advocates argued that this would give prosecutors too much power when questioning law enforcement’s every decision made after the fact. This language was removed in the final Assembly version of the bill, satisfying most.

Not all, however are satisfied with the new bill. Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) was the only Republican to vote no on the amended version, but later changed his vote to an abstention while still in verbal opposition to the bill. Mathis argued that lack of respect for police officers was the reason for so many civilian killings.

“We teach our youth ‘no means no,’” he said in a debate on the Assembly floor. “But when are we going to teach them, ‘stop means stop,’ ‘freeze means freeze’?”

Mathis’s claims prompted a harsh response from Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), who said: “I listen to all of you with your commentaries and words, but you don’t have to have my kind of experience. You don’t live where I live or grow up where I grew up.”

The Epoch Times spoke with the office of Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, who provided a statement on the controversial bill.

“While developments with regard to AB 392 are promising from the law enforcement perspective, the legislative intent and rhetoric regarding the bill’s necessity have perpetuated the viewpoint that improper use of force is commonplace in law enforcement. Of course, this narrative is false. In Orange County, our recent use of force report shows that in 2018 our department chose to use force in only .1% of our interactions with the public. In most cases this force was done within policy.”

The bill, having passed in the Assembly and the Senate Public Safety Committee with ease, is expected to pass on the full Senate floor without opposition. Despite law enforcement agencies voicing opposition and concern about the bill’s effects on police to enforce the law, Gov. Gavin Newsom has publicly announced his support for the bill and his intention to sign it into law.